I’ve always liked silence, but it’s bone-chilling when you’re inside a haunted house.
Nakasunod ako kay Zion habang hawak ang laylayan ng damit niya sa likuran. The entrance was dimly lit but few steps later, the only source of light was the neon arrows on the floor and the small flashlight he was holding. Kinikilabutan din ako dahil tanging ang paglalakad lang namin ang naririnig ko and every little noise would make me wince. The only good thing was I couldn’t see anything in front because Zion was tall. Dahil parang hanggang batok niya lang ako ay hindi ko makikita kung may nakakatakot na lumitaw sa harapan namin, lalo na at nakayuko rin ako.
I realized I was holding my breath for too long when I had to exhale the stress that was building up in my chest . . . and that was my first mistake.
Pagkatapos na pagkatapos kong mag-relax for half a second ay bigla kaming may narinig na batang umiiyak. The hairs on my nape bristled, and the next thing I knew, I was already screaming.
The faces of children suddenly appeared on the walls, and they were reaching for our clothes.
“No!” I screamed while trying to get away from the small arms grabbing my shirt. Sa sobrang takot ko ay umikot ako papuntang harapan ni Zion habang nakahawak pa rin sa damit niya. “Ayoko na!”
Zion held my shoulders and steered me forward. I heard him chuckling while pushing me. “Medyo nasa bungad pa lang tayo. And please, ayaw kong lumabas na punit ang shirt ko.”
If I were in my normal state, I would have retaliated, but I was scared out of my wits and all I wanted was a safe space.
Bumitiw ako mula sa mahigpit na pagkakahawak ko sa shirt niya at pumuwesto sa kanan niya. I was trying to calm my nerves, but I flinched when I heard some noise around us again.
I tried looking at his face to make sure he was still beside me, but I couldn’t see it clearly in the dark. Tatawagin ko pa lang sana siya nang bigla na lang bumukas ang pinto sa kanan ko. Ni hindi ko alam na may room na pala sa dinadaanan namin pero muli na naman akong napasigaw dahil biglang may sumilip na mukha mula sa awang ng pinto. I was reminded of Roi’s story and how he experienced the real thing.
We ran away from that spot, and I wasn’t sure who dragged who. Ang lakas na rin ng tibok ng puso ko dahil sa takot. Gusto ko nang lumabas dahil pakiramdam ko ay mahihimatay na ako anytime.
“Okay ka lang ba—wait, are you crying?” he asked.
I didn’t even notice that I was sniffling. “I-I’m not!”
Palihim kong pinunasan ang namumuong luha sa mga mata ko at narinig ko naman siyang tumawa nang mahina. He was mocking me, wasn’t he?
“Alright, alright. If you say so.”
Hindi ko alam kung ilang beses na akong sumigaw at tumakbo pagkatapos no’n. My throat was already hurting from too much shouting and wailing, and we weren’t even halfway. Napahinto na lang kami nang nakita namin ang isang arrow na nakaturo papunta sa isang room. Oh god, that was definitely a bad news.
I swallowed down the fear that was creeping through my throat again. Zion carefully opened the door, and it creaked creepily as it revealed a dim room. I followed close behind, making sure I could reach his shirt if something happened.
Pagpasok namin sa loob ay mayroong blackboard at mga lamesa. It looked like a classroom, but there was nobody here except us . . . I think. Pero halos magwala ako sa takot nang may maramdaman akong kamay sa balikat ko.
Zion managed to grab my arm before I could tumble from too much flailing, but I stifled a scream upon seeing the owner of the hand. It was a headless teacher with blood was gushing down from his neck . . . and he was holding his head on his right hand.
“For your question,” the headless teacher said with a spine-chilling voice. Wait, so this was one of the two questions that we needed to answer, right?
Itinuro niya ang blackboard at bigla na lang may nag-project doon. It was a math question.
What is 2¹⁰?
Bago pa ako makapagsalita ay bigla namang nagsikalampagan ang mga lamesa. A chill went down my spine when students started emerging underneath the tables, their disheveled hair completely covering their faces. Desperate for security, I clung onto Zion’s right arm as I yelled the answer. “1024! Seriously, Mr. Producer!” Nas-stress na ako sa takot pero narinig ko pang saglit na tumawa si Zion at maging ang ilang students. The producers were really going all out with this haunted house, and it was making me crazy! Suddenly, everyone stopped moving and the teacher nodded the head he was holding. “Correct. You may go now.” Agad naman kaming naglakad palayo ni Zion dahil baka biglang sumugod ang mga nandoon sa room. “You answered that quickly,” bulong niya. “I-I kinda memorized the exponential powers table,” I meekly replied, suddenly exhausted after facing a lot of creatures from the haunted house. “Wow—!” Natigil ang pag-uusap namin dahil bigla na lang may nalaglag mula sa kisame and it was a freaking white lady! We immediately ran away, but I couldn’t relax even for a second. Parang lalong mas naging nakakatakot ang ambiance sa second half kaya wala na akong nagawa kung hindi ang sumigaw. Curses also slipped out of my mouth every now and then. Ilang beses din kaming pumasok sa maling room o ‘di kaya naman lumiko sa maling hallway kaya kahit natatakot ako ay pinilit ko pa ring tingnan ang nasa unahan namin para ituro kay Zion kung saan ang tamang daan. Still, what kept my sanity intact was his presence. At least alam kong hindi ako mag-isa sa loob at tinutulungan niya naman ako kahit papaano. He would block my view when he knew something was going to pop up in front of us. He would also reassure me that these creatures and ghost weren’t real. “You okay?” tanong niya nang makalagpas kami sa hallway kung saan may nanghabol sa amin na may itak na nakataga sa ulo. He wiped off the tears welling in my eyes with the hem of his sweatshirt. “No,” I said, my voice trembling. Bakit ba kasi ang daming lumilitaw sa dinadaanan namin? Bakit ba kailangang manghabol? Gusto ko na lang humimlay sa totoo lang kasi pagod na ako sa sobrang takot. “Malayo pa ba?” He gently squeezed my hand. I wasn’t sure when it happened, but somehow, I was already holding his hand when I came back to my senses. This was my first time holding someone’s hand and I would have been flustered if we weren’t inside a haunted house. “Mukhang malapit na,” sagot naman niya. I just let him lead the way dahil mukhang straight hallway lang naman ang susundan ngayon. He was still holding my left hand while I rested my right hand on his arm. The sudden silence was making my skin crawl and I knew something frightening would come out again. I thought I had readied my heart, but I still got surprised when a menacing laugh echoed through the corridor. Biglang may lumabas sa left side na matandang babae. She was dressed like a witch, but what terrified me was that she was dragging a dead body. Agad akong napatago sa likuran ni Zion. “Wait, wait, sorry po!” sigaw ko dahil patuloy siyang lumalapit sa amin. “Hee-hee-hee! For your last question,” she said in a high pitch, ignoring my plea. “What has a head, a tail, but does not have a body?” My whole body flinched when the dead body suddenly reached for my feet. “Ahh please! Stop that! Mr. Producer, tama na kasi!” Nagtago na naman ako sa likod ni Zion para hindi ko makita ang nasa harapan namin at kahit papaano ay medyo kumalma ako. Going back to the challenge, trick questions like that wasn’t my strong suit. Idagdag pa na hindi na naman ako makapag-focus dahil may mga biglang lumitaw sa bintana. A dozen of faceless people started banging against the windows of the room where the witch came out. May balak bang pumatay ang staff ng haunted house? Kasi kaunti na lang ay aatakihin na talaga ako sa puso. The ghosts and creatures they prepared were too scary! Curse them! “Hmm . . .” uttered Zion. Gusto ko nang tumakbo palayo ro’n pero mukhang gusto niyang masagot ang tanong. The witch started counting down, and we were about to reach the time limit but Zion suddenly gasped. “A coin,” he answered. The witched smiled and it honestly creeped me out. “Correct.” “Finally,” bulong ko. Hindi na ako nag-aksaya pa ng panahon at mabilis kong hinatak si Zion. We finished the challenge and all we needed to do was find the exit, but I regretted leading the way because a zombie suddenly crawled out of the nearby hallway. “Ah, what the f—!” Zion covered my mouth with his right hand before I could utter some extreme profanities, and he dragged me away from the hallway while trying to block the zombie from my way. I heard him chuckling when we got away from that section. “Is your throat okay? Kanina ka pa sigaw nang sigaw.” Napahawak tuloy ako sa leeg ko. Feeling ko nga ay napaos na ako dahil mula simula hanggang dulo ay sumisigaw ako. Hindi naman na ako nakasagot dahil may naaninag ako sa unahan. For the first time after a while, my face lit up because I finally saw the exit. I was almost running toward the open doorway and heaved a sigh of relief when we stepped outside, but my knees almost buckled when someone suddenly appeared in front of us. “Congratula—!” I screamed some incomprehensible words, thinking that the staff was also a ghost, and ran into Zion upon turning around. “Wow, that was a strong reaction,” the staff remarked, and even without looking, I could tell that he was suppressing his laughter. The remaining strength in my body completely disappeared and Zion quickly supported my weight with a hug. He snickered. “Sorry, matatakutin po ito,” sabi niya sa staff. “But she still did well.” “Mukha nga,” the staff replied. Zion gently patted my head while my face was still buried against his chest. “Okay ka na ba?” he whispered, his right hand still on my head while his right was rested against my back. “Roi and Arin are already inside, and it looks like we managed to finish it on time.” Then I realized we were still hugging, but I couldn’t let go because my legs would surely collapse if I did. The fear I felt a while ago was replaced by embarrassment, and for a second, I was thankful he couldn’t see my beet red face.